Winter

Little Mister Sunshine

(The following was begun not quite a fortnight ago, while we were still waiting for winter to quit throwing stuff, finish packing, and just get the heck out. Other than the potential for a spiteful squall or two, we believe winter is gone. We hope so because a certain somebody shaved.)

One year, on the second day of February, while the rest of the world whooped it up with Punxsutawney Phil, a small group of Vermonters gathered in Waterbury to establish some traditions of their own. Because so much is wrong with the spectacle of dragging a large rodent (everyone knows it’s a “woodchuck,” not a “groundhog”) from its den on a cold February morning, and because this is Vermont, Woodchuck Day participants vote, electing an Honorary Woodchuck to perform the prognosticating.

Also because this is Vermont, the standards are a little higher when it comes to the meaning of shadows. Six more weeks of winter might seem dire enough to the good folks of Gobbler’s Knob when Phil is hoisted before the cameras but if our Honorary Woodchuck’s shadow appears it means we get another twelve.

Having not read the news reports, I am assuming a shadow was cast this year.

Tradition holds that when someone says “Happy Woodchuck Day!” in February the proper response is to shout “Bug off!” so readers may infer whatever they wish regarding the temperament of Vermonters with three feet of snow in the woods toward the end of March.

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It takes more than mild sunshine one day out of four to make it feel like spring, especially when it snows the other three and the temperature is below freezing on all of them. More than one person I know has sworn to let the next snow sit, they’re so tired of moving the stuff around, and no one I know is digging into random piles just for grins, but sometimes we must take matters into our own hands when spring isn’t making much headway and even seems to be losing ground.

Cropped to resemble a random pile of snow, this picture is of a roof:

A Load of Snow

A Load of Snow

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Categories: Humor, Maple Syrup, Rural Life, Vermont, Winter | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Cold Water, Colder Air

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Instead of glancing off at low angles, the sun shines more directly on surfaces these days and, in spite of the unseasonably cool temperatures we’ve had, eaves drip and the sound of running water is heard in the stream beds.

Dark surfaces become warmer than the air that surrounds them, and even a light coating of dust is enough to tip the balance and allow ice to become water, if only for a minute. Melt water on the road flows to the shade of the cedar tree by the drive and hardens to a smooth, slippery finish and opaque ice builds beneath the eaves like stalagmites in a cave.

Slowly but surely, this year’s snowfall makes its way to the ocean, advancing as far as it can during the day before the angle of the sun changes and the chill of night sets in. Each day brings another few minutes of sunlight that is increasing in intensity, and each day the snow, the ice, and even the woods themselves react.

Water flows year-round from springs in the valley, and streams run throughout the winter here. Some of that constant flow makes a short stop on its way to the Atlantic, coating everything it splashes as it drops from the outlet of Fish in a Barrel Pond. Cold water meets colder air and fantastic forms arise.

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Categories: nature, Rural Life, Vermont, Winter | Tags: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Mad Marchness

When the lion of winter lashes out like it’s wounded, roaring with cold, and the lamb of spring kicks up wet showers, those who live where the two meet get pelted with ice balls. Back and forth it goes every March, and we know spring will eventually prevail, but so far this year, March belongs to winter.

The Road to Fish in a Barrel Pond

The Road to Fish in a Barrel Pond

When snow is followed by rain and the rain is followed by sub-zero cold, an icy crust develops. When that cold is followed by more snow and more rain, the best term to describe conditions is “glaciated”. We are encased in ice. Continue reading

Categories: Maple Syrup, nature, Rural Life, Vermont, Winter | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

There Were Going to be No Posts About Winter This Winter

February can be a strange month around here. Poke through the archives of this blog and see for yourself. For that matter, a lot of the winter-time stuff found in these pages verges on the odd, perhaps due to a phenomenon known by some as “cabin fever.” Some others will say they’ve come down with a mild case of the “winter blahs” and a goodly number of folks will become so s.a.d. they must sit near bright lights of appropriate spectrum to survive. Around here we prefer the term “shack nasties” but the irony is that, no matter what you call the way folks feel mid-way through a long winter grind, it can happen even to those who are able to get out of their cabin or shack.

A Giant Drift, Cresting Like a Wave

A Giant Drift, Cresting Like a Wave

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Categories: Humor, nature, Vermont, Winter | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Found Photos: Mid-20th Century Vermont Beaver Camp

There are no dates on these photos I found but I am guessing they were taken in the late 1940s or early 1950s. They record a group of men who traveled on snowshoes for a couple days of beaver trapping. Blurry and badly exposed, these photos were probably a big deal to these guys. Back then, the cost of a roll of film, plus processing, confined picture taking to special occasions and events. When the pictures finally got back from being developed these men probably got together again to look at them over coffee and cigarettes after dinner, before spending the rest of the evening playing cribbage and telling stories.

I don’t know how these pictures ended up where I found them, and I don’t know where they’d have gone if I hadn’t, but I wanted to preserve these old records of our outdoor heritage. Wanting to share them is the reason for this post.

In case someone missed it the first time, these pictures are of beaver trappers. They had a successful couple of days, hung their catch from poles and posed for pictures in camp. There’s nothing here to disturb the squeamish, but it might not be everyone’s cup of tea.

Heading out on Snowshoes

Heading out on Snowshoes

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Categories: nature, Vermont, Winter | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

The Cremation of MMXIII

(To the delight of some and the consternation of others, this is not Part II of our tribute to Forgotten Fly Fishing Legend Little Dickie Conroy. That particular dispatch will appear shortly, just as soon as our top-notch research staff has finished making stuff up reviewing source materials.)

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A symbolic bonfire is an appropriate and sometimes exciting way to bid farewell and good riddance to the old year. It can also extend a warm welcome to the new year and serve to celebrate the gradual lengthening of days in the midst of a long winter slog. A spontaneous attempt was made to light such a fire three weeks ago, using a very large pile of brush, which was crusted with ice and covered in snow. Despite the use of various accelerants, the effort had to be abandoned and, while someone might have had a good chuckle at the time, someone else came out of the deal with nothing more to show than some ironic burn-holes in his raincoat and a hat that smelled like diesel fuel.

Symbolic, perhaps, but not what we would consider appropriate.

Several attempts since have yielded similar results but we’re sure to get a good one going sooner or later to serve as the symbolic cremation of MMXIII. In the meantime, here is a photo of a fire from a previous post, “The Cremation of MMX” (rest assured that the surprised-looking man in the foreground had no hair to begin with and was just fine):

Quill Gordon Shows How It's Done

Quill Gordon Shows How It’s Done

For the purposes of this post, the fire will be metaphorical, and the brush to be burned is a few things found laying around in the form of notes and half-started nonsense. This should lessen the chances of someone flapping and running, chased by a ribbon of flame, while everyone else hollers, “Drop the can! Continue reading

Categories: Humor, Winter | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

Tapping Out

(A new tab at the top of this page (or this link) will take you to a collection of photos and links following the production of maple syrup this spring from the sugar bush of some friends. Their new enterprise is called Bobo’s Mountain Sugar, and the taps are in on Bobo’s Mountain — all 2500 of them.)

In mixed martial arts, tapping out is an act of submission, the end of a fight, and often the result of a violent twisting of arms. In maple syrup production, tapping out is a declaration of victory, the end of a job that no one’s arm had to be twisted to do.

big old tree

The snow was deep when I started helping on the hill above the sugar house, but I waded and floundered and stomped my way along the lines, tapping trees for a few hours each afternoon, doing what I could. The steepness of the hill, combined with thickets of beech and short balsams, had me convinced I made the right call in leaving my snowshoes at home, even as more flakes fell every day. After struggling in the wake of an additional 14+” from one storm, I finally gave in and strapped them on the next day.

If, as they say, snowshoes make the impossible difficult, it was a very hard afternoon. Without my snowshoes I had sunk to my knees; with them I still sank to my knees and had to high-step to clear the holes I’d made, with the decks weighted down with snow. Lifting a leg, expecting 25 pounds of resistance but getting none because the snow slid off, resulted in a few sharp blows to my chin and twice I kneed myself in the ear when my right foot sank deeper as I lifted my left. Continue reading

Categories: +Uncategorized, Maple Syrup, Rural Life, Vermont, Winter | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Another Nice Day to Live in Vermont

More than a foot of snow snuck in the first part of this week, in the form of several small batches, so when Wednesday’s already grim Winter Storm Warning included the words “locally higher totals possible” it was a good bet Fish in a Barrel Pond would get its fair share.

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Categories: Maple Syrup, Rural Life, Vermont, Winter | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Quill Gordon Does a Tap Dance

I awoke this morning to two terrible realizations. First, it was nearly half-past six, meaning I’d slept in like a slug. Second, it was Monday, and the return of Flashback Friday had faltered after only two weeks, despite my good intentions.

crying-angler

Yeah, yeah, I know. I can just feel the disappointment, but it’s not like you just found a leak in your waders or something. Besides, proper flashbacks should be unexpected, out of the blue, and a complete surprise to all involved.

My most recent post featured some mighty rugged poop and, while not a flashback, certainly was unexpected, out of the blue, and a complete surprise to all involved. The books could use some balancing after that, starting with this post, beginning with a nice photo of a stream:

stream

Living in Vermont, fisher scat is as much a part of late winter as maple syrup, and I hope that if anything can make up for posting the scariest poop ever, maple syrup will. I like maple syrup so much that I have jumped at the chance to help some friends through the process. Continue reading

Categories: Maple Syrup, Rural Life, Vermont, Winter | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

“Channeling Natty Bumppo” or, “Quill Gordon Knows Sh*t”

Fair Warning: There will be no replacing of letters with asterisks beyond this point! There are also three photos of interesting, strangely hairy poop in this post. Tolerant, indulgent readers who make it to the end will be rewarded with a few pretty pictures of ice.

Once, long ago, I sat in a tavern with some coworkers, sipping root beer and swapping stories. A man at the end of the bar to my right squinted at me and slurred, “Hey! You don’t know shit!”

This was unfortunate because if he had been seated to my left he would have seen the patch on my sleeve signifying employment at the local zoological park and indicating what was actually an intimate and far superior knowledge of shit. Not realizing what he was in for, he wiggled his index finger and taunted me once more. “You don’t know shit!” he exclaimed.

“As a matter of fact,” I began, hitching up my uniform pants as I stood, “I do know shit.” I then proceeded to recite every term for shit I could think of, from spoor and sign to crap and beyond. I told about finding peacock feathers in elephant shit and the defensive defecation of large pythons but I didn’t get a chance to expound on the eucalyptus-laced dung of koalas or the flung-poo antics of monkeys because the man at the bar staggered over and cut me off.

Actually, he cut off my air by punching me in the throat, but that is not the point. The point is that I am neither surprised nor particularly bothered when someone leaves a message on the answering machine telling me they found some very interesting, strangely hairy poop in the woods and that it was such interesting, strangely hairy poop that they felt compelled to carry a large sample of said poop to my porch, leaving it on an overturned bucket, cradled by a lichen-covered tree branch.

Feces of a fisher

There are those among us who would take one look at this strangely hairy poop and say, “Them’s Sasquatch turds, for sure,” but they would be wrong. Continue reading

Categories: nature, Vermont, Winter | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

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